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Crowell overcomes The Show That Almost Wasn't

The Hideout, Red Deer, Alberta, Canada, August 16, 2017

Reviewed by Donald Teplyske

In the memory of those in attendance, it will go down as The Show That Almost Wasn't. The King of Americana, surprisingly strong of voice although physically ragged, Rodney Crowell took to the stage about 90 minutes later than scheduled, and the audience members who persevered were treated to a celebration of song and spirit.

As show time neared, Crowell found himself suffering from a spike in blood pressure, and this condition threatened his ability to perform. Upon entering the venue, Crowell was obviously in considerable distress and was in short order escorted from the restaurant/pub to seek medical treatment at the nearby hospital.

An hour later, he reappeared with a bit more color in his cheeks and hit the stage at a near run. With a quick explanation and apology for the delay and a quip about the benefits of universal health care, he and his sidemen Jedd Hughes (guitar) and Eamon McLoughlin (fiddle, mandolin) launched into an evening of acoustic country.

While most of the numbers were to be expected, Crowell pulled out select deeper cuts including "Glasgow Girl" and "Fever on the Bayou." With as extensive songwriting catalogue as Crowell's, a 90-minute set is always going to leave some audience members wanting for a favored number, but on this evening, the 200-plus in attendance were well-served. "Earthbound" established the reflective timbre of the evening, and with a nod to friend Guy Clark "Stuff That Works," a bluesy "Come Back, Baby" and the playfully dark "Frankie Please" soon followed.

As well-received as his more contemporary pieces were, one couldn't miss the energy exchanged with the audience as he tore into "She's Crazy For Leaving," the crowd-pleasing sing-a-long "It's Hard to Kiss the Lips At Night That Chew Your Ass Out All Day Long," and "Leaving Louisiana In The Broad Daylight." "'Til I Gained Control Again" (for the second time, more on that in a moment) and "East Houston Blues" were similarly greeted with enthusiasm.

Coming as it did on the 40th anniversary of Elvis Presley's death, a quick tale about where Rodney was the day he died (Memphis) and who he was with (Emmylou Harris and the Hot Band, opening for Willie Nelson) and that significance (Glen D. Hardin and James Burton played with both Elvis and Emmylou) as well as Jerry Lee Lewis jumping onto Nelson's stage later that evening to question, "Who's the King now?" (along with Crowell's assertion that "I've been mad at him ever since!") appropriately led into "That's Alright, Mama."

The rapport between Crowell, Hughes, and McLoughlin was obvious, even without knowing what the sidemen had done on behalf of Crowell prior to their set (more in a moment.) They played off each other constantly, delivering harmony vocals aptly (and with McLoughlin assuming John Paul White's parts on the show-stopping "It Ain't Over") and extended instrumental breaks.

Most fittingly, the evening closed with a sparse rendering of "The Flyboy & the Kid," Crowell's paean for Clark. Playing this gig between festival dates, Alberta's central city was well-served by the Rodney Crowell Trio.

In Crowell's extended absence earlier in the evening, and with every indication that he wouldn't be capable of performing, Hughes and McLoughlin treated the assembled to what was essentially a impromptu bluegrass and traditional country jam of "songs they didn't know." For 40 minutes, until Crowell's return, the pair debuting as Two Guys on a Stage, tore through Bill Monroe ("I'm Blue, I'm Lonesome, Too" and "Uncle Pen") and traditional standards ("Boil Them Cabbage Down," featuring Hughes picking like a madman and McLoughlin fiddling up the proverbial storm and "Mystery Train") before sharing a Nashville rehearsal take of "Heartbroke" and Crowell's "'Til I Gain Control Again," an indication they didn't expect Crowell's return.

Show opener, local Tyson Prior delivered a personal set of workingman, first person narrative originals highlighted by "Hillbilly Blues" and "Lonely Road to You." Amid clattering dishes from diners, Prior demonstrated strong songwriting and performance chops within the Chris Knight-Mike Plume-Jay Clark fold, leaning toward the country side. Asked to stretch his set due to Crowell's struggles, he pulled "She Thinks I Still Care" and "The Weight" from the songbook before closing with his own talking country blues, "Another Day Another Buck."

A very impressive summer evening of acoustic Americana was had.

©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
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